The Best hikes in Banff for every skill level
You don’t have to be an avid outdoors(wo)man to appreciate all that the Canadian Rockies have to offer. Banff National Park specifically makes up some of the most iconic trails in Canada and even all of North America. Banff and the surrounding areas have trails for every skill level, too. You can find tons of options for major elevation gain and epic views to scenic leisurely walks.
Planning a visit to Banff? Check out my post for the complete guide to Banff National Park.
First, some things to consider:
- Be “Bear Aware” Some of the hikes around Banff require at least 2 and sometimes 4 people due to bear activity. You can look this up on the park’s website or pay attention to the posted signs at trailheads.
- Again, Bear Aware. You should always have bear spray on your person. You can get this at any of the outdoor stores in town and some hotels offer rentals.
- Check Weather and Trail Conditions First: Hikes at higher elevation may still be snow covered even in the middle of July. Make sure to check in with the ranger’s station and review your plans with a ranger. You want to be prepared for the trail conditions.
- Start Early. Banff is an extremely popular tourist destination. If you want to avoid crowds on the trail, make sure to get an early start, especially if you’re doing a well-known route.
OK, now to the fun stuff! The best hikes in Banff by difficulty:
Elevation: 3300 ft
Distance: 5.7 miles
One of the best hikes in Banff if you’re looking for more of a challenge. Also, if you want to gain a good amount of elevation but it’s still early summer, Mt Fairview is a great option that gets a ton of sun exposure so it’s unlikely you’ll run into much snow in the summer.
Unlike my original, more ambitious plan to climb Mount Temple (which was still under a few feet of snow for most of the ascent – reasons to check in with the ranger station before starting a hike!) Mount Fairview was clear of snow.
What makes this hike one of the best hikes in Banff, you can start at Paradise Valley, a lush valley with parking at the trailhead. After some time, the trail turns away from the valley and heads up to the saddle point between Fairview and Saddle peak which is where the trail gets its steepest.
The final mile of the climb goes straight up the mountain through loose rocks up to the peak at 9000 ft.
We met some friendly Canadians at the top of Mount Fairview who had been hanging out celebrating Canada Day. After eating lunch and chatting for awhile, we started the long climb back down. We decided to make the hike a loop and head back towards Lake Louise and then over to our car. We dragged the hike out to 13 miles and overall 3600 feet of elevation which made for a solid day.
The beautiful changing scenery and rewarding summit views make this one of the best day hikes in Banff.
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Elevation: 2900 ft
Distance: 7.4 miles
One of the best hikes in Banff is Devil’s Thumb – this trail gets you stop at the quaint Tea House next to Lake Agnes and killer views of Lake Louise from above.
The top of Devil’s Thumb is a peak that overlooks both Lake Agnes and Lake Louis at an elevation of 8,000 feet. We started off by hiking up to Lake Agnes and the teahouse that sits on the edge of the lake. This is a great spot to grab food and enjoy the scenery before the real climb. The tea house gets very busy so make sure to get there early or start your hike later and stop on the way back.
We hiked around the lake and up out of the lake valley and onto the trail to take us up to Devil’s Thumb. This trail is not marked on the park maps, but was fairly obvious to find (check out All Trails for more details). Three quarters of the way up we ran into a family of big horn sheep!
The view was excellent, but clouds would come and go constantly and visibility was limited. It even started to snow at one point, this was in July!
Finally, we made our way back down to Lake Louise, taking a different route to make a loop.
You could do a bit easier route and hike to Big Beehive Lookout but this is even more popular so be prepared for lots of other people on the trails.
Beautiful views, a chance to stop at Lake Agnes Tea House, and being less popular makes Devil’s Thumb one of the best hikes in Banff.
Plain of Six Glaciers
Elevation: 1921 ft
Distance: 9.1 miles
If you’ve done any research on hikes around Lake Louise, you probably read of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. It is very popular which is why I opted out of doing this hike, though if I were to go back to Banff I would want to do it. The trail is much easier in terms of elevation gain and it has another Tea House where you can stop and fuel up for the rest of the hike!
Elevation: 774 feet
Distance: 3.1 miles
Johnston Canyon is more of a leisurely stroll through a canyon, sometimes walking above the river and through caves. The walkway can get very narrow and like most places in Banff, the canyon can get VERY busy. I would imagine this trail is not an enjoyable experience at peak times. We got there about an hour after sunrise and there were already about 10 cars in the parking lot. Still, this is a great place to explore while giving your legs a break or for a family activity.
you may have seen pictures of a cave area with a large boulder in the middle – this is off-trail and now closed. Due to excessive traffic from tourists trying to find the area, the park had to close off parts of the trail in an effort to preserve the vegetation.
Tent Ridge Horseshoe in Canmore
Elevation: 2726 ft
Distance: 6.2 mile loop
Canmore is technically in Kanaskis County but has equally beautiful scenes as Banff. The town is growing and expanding as tourists learn all it has to offer with a sometimes cheaper price tag than Banff.
Valley of 10 Peaks / Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Elevation: 2552 ft
Distance: 6.6 miles
One of the best hikes in Banff especially popular in September when the larch trees turn a golden color and light up the valley. Pictures of this trail alone make me want to go back to Banff.
Elevation: 948 feet
Distance: 2.7 miles
The best easy hike in Banff to get a view of the town from above as well as a view of Mount Rundle and Bow Valley. Also, you may be surprised to find out there’s actually no tunnel.
The Best Hikes in Banff
There you have it – the best hikes in Banff! I hope this was helpful information in planning your own adventure. Let me know if I missed anything and check out my post on what else you should do in Banff.